Malaysia aspires to be a developed nation by 2020. One of the efforts to achieve that status is to have a knowledge-based human capital that will drive and sustain that journey. The paramount need to raise the education level of about 80% of the workforce in Malaysia will place a heavy burden on the country’s existing tertiary education system as places are limited and the competition is stiff. It is thus evident that to ameliorate the problem of transforming the workforce, an alternative education system will have to be provided as the main thrust for the human capital to acquire new and relevant knowledge and skills and at the same time ensuring that they remain in employment. Open and distance learning must be the viable alternative to provide tertiary education to people who either never had the chance or gave up their chance to pursue a university degree.
Universiti Sains Malaysia, through the school of Distance Education (SDE), has helmed distance education programs in Malaysia since 1971 and 2011 marks its 40th year as the main role player to meet the country’s need in providing quality open and distance education for Malaysians. In the last four decades, the distance education institution at USM has grown and matured from a unit attached to the School of Humanities and offering its programmes, to become a centre administrating programmes offered by other schools in USM, to finally taking its place as a full fledge school offering its own degree programmes. No doubt, within this period, the School of Distance Education (SDE) has contributed to the development of the human capital in Malaysia and has helped thousands of students to obtain their bachelors’ degree while opting to continue to remain in full time employment.
As part of its celebration to mark its 40th year, SDE is planning to organise an international conference which will serveas a platform for distance practitioners and educators world-wide to discuss issues related to the development, future and challenges of distance education. This will allow distance educators at SDE as well as counterparts engage in the same ODL business to chart the future course in transforming higher education to meet the challenges of sustainable development as well as to reach out towards the bottom billion.
This effort is also in tandem with the national APEX mission of raising the capacity for knowledge and innovation in order to move the economy up the value chain, to improve the standard and sustainability of the quality of life and to strengthen the institutional and implementation capacity. This is also in line with the vision of the USM Vice Chancellor, the Honourable Prof. Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, that the university’s drive is “to re-examine the core foundation of its being, and takes cognition of the need to amalgamate the vital elements of the economy, society and the environment”.